"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," declared White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.Last winter's war between Israel and Hamas was definitely a serious crisis, and it led peace researcher Dr. Simcha Bahiri, who has always believed in launching creative initiatives in the midst of chaos, to initiate an Israeli-Palestinian youth essay for peace contest, organized by the Palestine-Israel Journal, which was open to Israelis and Palestinians aged 17-24.
“Whether my essay will win or not, I want to thank you for causing me to put my feelings down on paper," enthused one of the Israeli participants.
The winning Israeli essay by 19 year old Maya Wind from Jerusalem, advocated the creation of “a joint Israeli-Palestinian Doubt Forum which would provide a way for Palestinians and Israelis to directly interact with each other before they reach the opposite sides of a checkpoint or a wall…and would refresh the framework of the political debate… Though young people have a natural tendency to rebel against the previous generation's values, opinions among them regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remain static… Developing the notion of doubt increases the capacity to think in new directions and to translate these ideas into innovative actions that can change the political reality of the region.”
The winning Palestinian essay by 19 year old Khadrah Jean Jaser AbuZant from Tulkarem, called for a process of “healing, engagement and reconciliation.” She emphasized the importance of “compassionate listening and programs like ‘Creativity for Peace’ and ‘Combatants for Peace’ whose members, despite losing things most precious to them, a loved one or their freedom, can bring the strength and stamina needed to get through the toughest of times ahead… Although youthful innocence can never be regained, hope and humanity have a chance for restoration by allowing time for healing, engaging in compassionate dialogue, reconciling through support of rebuilding efforts, reaching mutual accord, new policies and agreements… After all, worse can always follow…there is no time to lose.”
Second prize winner Naomi Mark, 21 from Be'ersheva, quoted from Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize speech: "The majority of politicians… are interested not in truth but in power…To maintain that power it is essential that people live in ignorance of the truth…" "What did we really know about the "Cast Lead Operation," and about the people of Gaza?...The Israeli media bubble around the attack in Gaza was almost hermetic, and the reports in the foreign media were only available to those who sought them out…Youth should break out of the political-media bubble that we live in, to think about the education we received, the environment we grow up in…Critical thinking will require of us to examine anew our schools…the orientation towards the military in our education… As an alternative "to despair or routine, I choose a third way, to act…"
Neriya Mark, 21, from Tel Aviv, shared the second prize: "Beyond the images of horror that I saw…it was hard for me to see how the Israelis saw themselves as the victim…with the distorted thought that we were facing an existential danger…The "Cast Lead Operation" revealed to me the level of fear that is being cultivated within Israeli society…which causes defensiveness and a justification for the lack of sensitivity towards other people…We must strengthen trust and our connection with the Palestinians, we have to change the basis for teaching the Arabic language in Israel… to overcome the sense of alienation that Israelis feel towards the Arabs… When teaching history, a tremendous emphasis is placed on the Holocaust…but if they teach us to love humankind, and to ensure that history doesn't repeat itself, we should also learn about other struggles and conflicts… To be able to confront and fix current problems in Israel and the world, we have to be prepared to be thinking people, who do not act as a result of brainwashing, fear and revenge…"
Palestinian second prize winner Omar Nada wrote a "Letter to an Israeli Friend": "When I watch all those scenes of violence and killings on TV, I remember a saying of my grandfather's… "Blessed are the youth"…I, as a Palestinian youth, yearn to live out my youth, to chart my future and live my dreams. And in all certainty, this is what you wish too…My friend, you and I are the fuel of wars. Politicians ignite us. We are its instruments, and unfortunately we are the ones that get burned… I do not believe, and you should not believe, that what has happened in Gaza is a war with vanquished and victor…We have an Arabic proverb which says that a hand cannot clap alone. Your role and my role must complement each other…Let us work hand in hand. The road of a thousand miles starts with one step…Let us begin with electronic mail…to every Israeli youth, I am a youth like you…Let us together create our dreams, create that light at the end of the tunnel."
"All we are saying is give peace a chance," sang singer Danny Amir at the close of the awards ceremony in Tel Aviv, adding a few words of his own, one of them being “Obama.”